Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 31 March 2020

Erdogan admits sending Syrian militias to Libya battlefield

The announcement came as the UN said ceasefire talks were back on track

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to journalists in front of a mosque as he leaves Friday prayers in Istanbul. Presidential Press Office, Handout via Reuters
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to journalists in front of a mosque as he leaves Friday prayers in Istanbul. Presidential Press Office, Handout via Reuters

As the United Nations said that ceasefire talks in Libya were back on track after the Tripoli administration walked out last week, Turkey has confirmed it sent Syrian militias to the battlefield.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed for the first time that Ankara has sent allied Syrian fighters to the conflict alongside its own training teams to bolster the militias who back the Government of National Accord in Tripoli.

Since last April, the Tripoli administration has been fighting an offensive by the Libyan National Army headed by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar who says he’s seeking to end the rule of militias and extremists.

"Turkey is there with a training force. There are also people from the Syrian National Army," Mr Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul, referring to the group of pro-Turkish rebel fighters formerly known as the Free Syrian Army.

The battle is increasingly drawing in international powers who support the two sides despite a UN arms embargo that seeks to half the increasing violence. In January, Turkey started deploying the Syrian fighters and trainers after Ankara signed a defence and economic deal with Tripoli last year.

Last month, the warring sides agreed to a ceasefire and although it has effectively fallen apart, the sides attended two rounds of talks in Geneva and a meeting in Moscow.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj of the GNA said that he was backing out of the Geneva-based peace talks.

There was no comment from the GNA after the UN said that talks were back on track.

The United Nations said the talks had resumed on Thursday. "The talks will continue today [Friday] and they will be getting underway shortly. So things are still happening on that front," UN spokesman Rheal LeBlanc told reporters in Geneva.

Field Marshal Haftar said on Friday that his conditions for a ceasefire were "withdrawal of Syria and Turkish mercenaries, Turkey stopping supplies of weapons to Tripoli and the liquidation of terrorist groups".

Mr Erdogan also hit out at Field Marshal Haftar and renewed allegations that Russia had sent 2,500 mercenaries from a private security company – claims denied by Moscow.

The Turkish president referred to Sudanese fighters, though a UN panel last month said there was no "credible evidence" of Sudanese paramilitaries fighting for the LNA.

Libya has been wracked by conflict since 2011 when a Nato-backed uprising led to the killing of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Separately, The Council of Europe has urged Italy to suspend its cooperation with the Libyan coast guard, saying migrants who are picked up at sea and returned to Libya face serious human rights violations in its wretched detention centres.

Italy for years has been criticized internationally for its support of the Libyan coast guard, which has involved the provision of patrol boats and training of its crews. Human rights groups have documented widespread abuses in Libyan detention camps where returning migrants are taken, including torture and rape.

Updated: February 22, 2020 01:33 PM

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